Jackson Browne Files Grand Ol' Suit Against McCain

Democratic rocker sues over the use of "Running on Empty" in an Obama-bashing campaign ad

By Natalie Finn Aug 14, 2008 9:45 PMTags
Jackson Browne, John McCainEvan Agostini/Getty Images, John McCain 2008

Jackson Browne is always up for a good protest.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer has refused to take it easy, suing GOP presidential candidate John McCain and the Republican National Committee for using his biggest hit, "Running on Empty," in an Obama-slamming campaign ad without his permission.

Browne, a regular fixture on the Democratic front, says that he's "incensed" by McCain's use of the song, which falsely creates a perception that he endorses the Arizona senator's campaign, according to the copyright-infringement lawsuit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.

He is seeking unspecified damages in addition to a permanent injunction barring further use of "Running on Empty" or any other Browne song.

"We are confident that Jackson Browne will prevail in this lawsuit," the musician's attorney, Lawrence Iser, said in a statement today. "Not only have Senator McCain and his agents plainly infringed Mr. Browne's copyright in 'Running on Empty,' but the Federal Courts have long held that the unauthorized use of a famous singer's voice in a commercial constitutes a false endorsement and a violation of the singer's right of publicity.

"In light of Jackson Browne's lifelong commitment to Democratic ideals and political candidates, the misappropriation of Jackson Browne's endorsement is entirely reprehensible, and I have no doubt that a jury will agree."

McCain's people say, however, that the ire would be better directed (if at all) to the Ohio Republican Party, which produced the commercial in question.

We know, Browne's camp said.

"We have sued the Ohio Republican Party as well, and we have been informed and believe that McCain and his campaign were well aware of the ad," Iser told the Los Angeles Times' Top of the Ticket blog. "We are also informed and believe that the ad was broadcast on television in Ohio and Pennsylvania...The fact that it appears on the Internet means it also reaches an audience well beyond those states."

And this isn't even the first pop-culture issue that McCain has had this week, according to the Huffington Post. Mike Myers reportedly requested that the campaign take down a Web ad that used the "We're not worthy" clip from Wayne's World in dissing Obama's celebrity prowess.

Harkening back to the days when Bruce Springsteen wanted Ronald Reagan to quit using "Born in the U.S.A." to tout his candidacy, Indiana-born rocker John Mellencamp, who says in Rolling Stone's latest issue that it can be pretty strange being the only left-winger for miles on his Indiana homestead, objected earlier this year to the McCain campaign playing "Our Country" and "Pink House" at events.

"Are you sure you want to use his music to promote Senator McCain's efforts?" read a letter sent by his spokesman to the campaign. "Logic says that the facts might prove to be an embarrassment, were they to be circulated widely."